"*Relax, it's a comedy!" Is what you'll see on the poster for N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk (NWC). NWC performed on the last day of NACA and every day leading up to it, we would see their name on the program and see their booth at CAMP but, with a name like that, we really had no idea what to expect. At a CAMP a few hours before their performance, my friend, Rondo, and I saw them at their booth and he said "I can't wait anymore, I need to know what these guys do." We asked them what they did and all they told us was that it was a comedy play about racism that incorporated theater, hip hop, slam poetry, stand up comedy and true life stories.
When they started their performance, everyone in the audience was shocked to say the least. There was a screen in the middle of the stage that said "NWC" and the three cast members were standing behind it. They all came out from behind it one by one chanting different things. First, the Chinese cast member, Dionysio Basco, came out from behind it chanting the word "chink". There was a few thousand college students in that room and every single one of them was silent. Next, the Hispanic cast member, Rafael Agustin, came out chanting "wetback". At this point, there were some people whispering but nobody was laughing, everybody felt way to awkward and uncomfortable to laugh. Finally, the African American cast member, Jackson McQueen, came out chanting "nigger". By this point, everyone felt so awkward and some people were laughing awkwardly, finally, one of my friends busted out in hysterical laughter causing everyone else in the room to do the same. They kept their rhythmic chant of racial slurs going for about a minute, even doing a dance to it. By the end of their chant, pretty much everyone realized that it was okay for them to laugh. I made a video of part of their chant and. I will post it below. There is also a video of the original cast members doing it on YouTube.
After their chant, one of the cast members shouted out "List game! Quick, list all the stereotypes commonly made about your ethnicity." They then took turns listing stereotypes, some funny, and some serious, some were positive and some were negative. Here is a video of the original cast playing the list game.
The first parts of the play were scripted and written by the original cast, which Rafael was a part of, but, the next part was written by the current cast. They told some of their personal stories about racism. This part was very powerful. One story that really stood out to me was Jackson talking about the first time he heard the word "nigger". He was in English class at school and they were reading Huckleberry Finn. The word came up and everybody in the class turned and looked at him. He talked about being very confused as to why they were looking at him because he had never heard the word before and didn't know what it meant. I remember him saying "it took me a few moments to realize 'wow, that's a word that describes me'". They also told some lighter, funny stories as well as doing some sketches to lighten the mood. Jackson did a sketch called "The day I was black" he talked about and acted out a situation that happened to him. He grew up in a white, middle class area and then later moved to a more diverse area. When he moved, people would say things to him like "why do you act so white" and "you dress white". So, he decided to completely change his appearance to try and look more "black". He wore stereotypical clothing and acted in a very stereotypical way. He thought that would make the other people like him more but instead they just got mad that he was doing that. That taught him that there was no such thing as "acting white" or "dressing black" and that everyone should just be themselves no matter what race they are.
I was able to talk the Dionysio, Rafael, and Jackson again after their performance. I told them that I really enjoyed it and asked why they started it they way they did. Rafael told me that it was a way to break the ice. They realize that race is often an uncomfortable topic to talk about so they figure if they chant racial slurs over and over again for a few minutes, people stop feeling so uncomfortable about it, it takes away it's power and turns it into just a meaningless word. They choose to talk about racism the way that they do because they realize that anyone can give a lecture to students about racism but lectures bore most students so they just zone out and don't even give it a chance. If they talk about it in an outrageous, funny way, people are almost forced to pay attention, whether they want to or not, and they have a much better chance of really impacting people's lives and they way they think about race. They also told me that they wanted to "break down these words and show everyone that there is only one race, the human race." Dionysio told me that they were all very nervous, especially when nobody was laughing at first, they were scared that people would be too offended and wouldn't understand it or enjoy it. When I told them how much I really did enjoy it and that I understood it and that I think what they do is so important, they were all so happy. Rafael said that what I said is the biggest compliment I could give them.
NWC relates to Johnson. Johnson talks about how important it is to "say the words" and talk about big issues and that talking about these issues is the only way to solve them. This embodies everything that NWC does. The whole reason they do what they do is to bring attention and start conversations about race. They truly believe that the only way to end racism is to talk about it.
They also relate to Delpit and the rules and codes of power. Jackson grew up in a middle class, white neighborhood so he was taught the rules and codes of power. He was taught how to live in a white world. This made it a little easier for him to gain power but, he still had to deal with many counts of racism in his life.
The third thing I will connect NWC to is SCWAAMP, especially whiteness. When Jackson moved to a diverse city, he realized how much whiteness is valued in our society. All of the cast members have experienced whiteness being more valued than their own ethnicity. If whiteness wasn't valued more than other things, this play wouldn't even need to exist.
Seeing NWC live was such an amazing experience. It is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I would love to try and book them to come to RIC next year and I'm sure the other executive board members of Programming would agree with me when I say they would be great to perform here. If you are interested in seeing them, let me know and I can try and make it happen. I also really recommend looking around on their website which was hyper linked in the first paragraph and watching some of their YouTube videos, some are hyper linked above, what they do is so awesome. You can also follow them on Instagram and Twitter: @NWCLive
What other people are saying about NWC:
"NWC is something every college student should experience." - Ben Haper, Kansas State University